At long last, disputed dance study retracted from Nature
The notice for “Dance reveals symmetry especially in young men,” by William M. Brown, Lee Cronk, Keith Grochow, Amy Jacobson, C. Karen Liu, Zoran Popovic´& Robert Trivers, says very little:
We retract this Letter, which reported strong positive associations between symmetry and dancing ability in a group of young Jamaican men. K.G. could not be contacted.
However, a lot of ink and pixels have been spilled over the years on this story, from Trivers’ own website to his 2009 book, The Anatomy of A Fraud: Symmetry and Dance, and many stories in the popular press. A May story in Nature, for example, revealed that Trivers had been temporarily banned from campus following a verbal altercation over the issue. (That story begins, “Few researchers have tried harder than Robert Trivers to retract one of their own papers.”)
As Nature‘s Eugenie Samuel Reich reports:
Trivers began to have doubts in 2007, when a Rutgers graduate student was unable to replicate some of the paper’s findings. On investigation, Trivers found inconsistencies in symmetry measurements between a data set kept by his group and one received from [then-postdoc William] Brown in 2007. “Not only were the values changed, they were not even internally consistent,” says Trivers.
In 2008, Trivers sought to retract the paper, but found the editors at Nature reluctant to do so.
But the case was now being re-evaluated, Reich noted:
An investigation of the case, completed by Rutgers and released publicly last month, now seems to validate Trivers’ allegations. Brown disputes the university’s finding, but it could help to clear the controversy that has clouded Trivers’ reputation as the author of several pioneering papers in the 1970s. For example, Trivers advanced an influential theory of ‘reciprocal altruism’, in which people behave unselfishly and hope that they will later be rewarded for their good deeds. He also analysed human sexuality in terms of the investments that mothers and fathers each make in child-rearing.
The paper has been cited 77 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
Trivers is not all that happy with the retraction notice, he tells us:
it took them 8 years after publication of the paper—and five after we submitted a retraction and 4 and a half years after we published PROOF of fraud (later borne out by Rutgers’ investigation) for them finally to “retract” a paper now cited 136 times
part of the long delays is that the journal really sees no upside to admitting fraud and then one of the co-authors Lee Cronk unaccountably defended the fraudster William Brown to the bitter end
here is what happened at the bitter end; this was Nature’s suggested wording:
“Since publication of the Letter, it has come to our attention that
certain aspects of data handling and treatment make the conclusions of the report unsound.”
but Brown and Cronk resisted, hence the following note of mine:
> while the fraudster William Brown and his chief supporter Lee Cronk
> insisted on the following language (now duly adopted by everybody):
> “…certain aspects of data management make the conclusions of the Letter
> in other words the first version says that it was because of flaws in
> data handling that unsound results were produced while the second version
> does not even admit to unsound results–unsupported ones, and then only
> because of problems in data “management”
> this is a slander on Dr Amy Jacobson who is in charge of data management
> and has been for some 12 years
> as shown by myself and ratified by Rutgers there are three independent
> data sets stored at different places and times, e.g. 1999 John Manning in
> the UK, 2004 Brian Palestis in the US) all are identical and internally
> Brown and Cronk’s data set have 65 fraudulent entries which are internally
> inconsistent, that is, contradicted as impossible by the rest of their
> data set
so now Nature “retracts’ the paper without saying a thing—once again the fraudsters get to pretend nothing is really amiss—i believe Brown still has his job in the UK